The Black Diamond Shadow is an intriguing blend of thick yet sensitive rubber.
In a segment dominated by Italian excellence, the arrival of a new player in this space is certainly a welcome sight. It’s a big deal when someone as heralded as Black Diamond decides to join in. While they are certainly no stranger to outdoor gear, this is nonetheless a challenging new endeavor. The Shadow is Black Diamond’s most aggressive model in their newly introduced three shoe lineup, and it’s certainly the most intriguing. Accented with slick clean lines, the all black color scheme gives it a mean yet elegant charm. Surrounded by rivals in loud bright colors, it was refreshing to see Black Diamond embrace such cool minimalist design. This is one clean shoe.
At first glance, I expected this to be a stiff and rigid shoe. The soles are made of a whopping 4.3mm of Black Diamond’s own NeoFriction Fuse rubber. It even has a midsole. On paper I had thought this shoe may feel similar to something like La Sportiva Miura’s based on the specs. These were all very interesting to me as this was engineered to be an aggressive bouldering and steep climbing shoe. But there is more than meets the eye. Immediately after picking them up, I noticed how incredibly soft the Fuse rubber is, even at 4.3mm. Just fiddling with it in my hands, it’s clear to me that the Black Diamond Shadow is actually a very soft shoe. The microfiber upper and rand is very thin and minimal. Even the midsole has slits in the foot arch to add to flexibility and mobility. In general, there are two different ways to build climbing shoes. The first one aiming to optimize sensitivity, think Scarpa Drago or La Sportiva Futura. The rationale being that this maximizes feedback and prehensile strength. And the antithesis to that, is to build a shoe with tons of support and hard rubber where you sacrifice sensitivity for having a much more stable platform that’s capable of handling a lot more weight. It’s usually pretty obvious to tell which end of the spectrum manufacturer’s are going for just based on the specs. With that said, the Black Diamond Shadow was a bit of a conundrum for me. It had characteristics of both philosophies and I really had a lot of questions as to how this would all translate in terms of performance.
As for sizing, Black Diamond recommends going true to street shoe size and that worked out to be a snug fit for me. I really enjoyed how the synthetic upper felt. It’s exceptionally thin and comfortable and conformed easily to the shape of my feet. The synthetic tongue material is actually not very stretchy at all, so you hardly need to pull the velcro strap down for a snug fit. I am glad there is an extra bootstrap on the tongue as it requires a little extra tugging to get your foot in there. It’s not particularly assymmetric or aggressive so it’s quite comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.
Despite marketed as a highly aggressive bouldering and steep climbing shoe, it has significant shortcomings in toe hooking and heel hooking. The heel rubber is actually really short, as in, it’s not long enough to go far up your Achilles. You can see that there is a small gap between the heel rubber and the heel tension band. Most rock climbing and bouldering shoes have the heel rubber go up all the way. In fact, even Black Diamond’s own less aggressive shoe, the Black Diamond Momentum is like that. It may seem like I am nitpicking here as the gap is really quite small but the thing is the rubber really thins out as it approaches this area, making for some painful heel hooks. This is so strange to me, it seems like it’s such an easy thing for Black Diamond to put in a few more centimeters of thicker rubber and it’s unclear what their design intent is here. And I know I ought to be pointing my town down on my heel hooks and really transferring the weight onto the bottom of the heel but that’s not always available on every climb. The toe is mostly serviceable but rubber is simply too thin and tiny. I can easily and precisely find the point at which my toe would catch onto the holds but often times on over hanging routes it was just too painful to fully commit to the move. As a result I found myself peeling frequently on toe hooks I would otherwise be very comfortable with.
The Shadow was made for steep climbing and bouldering but I wouldn’t say it really excels in that way. There are many other shoes that I would gladly pick over the Shadow for overhanging climbs. And it’s not because of the wildly thick 4.3mm NeoFriction Fuse rubber. In fact, I quite enjoyed this rubber. It is Black Diamond’s stickiest and softest rubber, and it’s performance holds up very well against the tried and true Vibram XS Grip2 rubber we find in most flagship bouldering shoes. And that’s saying a lot, given Vibram has been in this game for decades and this is Black Diamond’s first shot at it. However you can expect it to provide a stiffer and slightly more stable foot bed as there is 4.3mm of it. As expected, this helped in compensating for some of the torsion forces when standing on small edges. The 4.3mm is pretty thick though, and I definitely found the toe to be snubby and clunky as a result of that. Additionally since you are further away from the holds, expect to sacrifice some prehensile strength, which is a pretty huge sacrifice in my book. This is another example of seemingly conflicting design principles. It seems like a climbing shoe like this would really shine with 3.5mm where the rubber would feel like a thin layer around your foot instead of something extending out from your toes. The moderate aggressive profile helps deliver abundant power and precision onto the big toe.
The Black Diamond Shadow retails for $179.99 USD. At this price point there’s a lot of high performance shoes to pick from and it’s hard to say the Shadow is a particular standout. The price tag is that of the same as Scarpa Furia or La Sportiva Solution, and I am not sure I’d pick the Shadow over either of those shoes. It seems to be the Shadow would actually be rather well suited for sport climbing as the soles are thick enough to mitigate foot fatigue and flat and comfortable enough to do long climbs in.
The Shadow is a very comfortable climbing shoe with good sensitivity packed in an stylish and graceful form factor. It is a very strong first attempt by Black Diamond but a seemingly conflicting design hold it back from performing with the cream of the crop.